Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Illiberal Trade Interests: The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Binoy Kampmark Casts a Critical Eye over Intellectual Property Aspects of the Proposed TPP

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Illiberal Trade Interests: The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Binoy Kampmark Casts a Critical Eye over Intellectual Property Aspects of the Proposed TPP

Article excerpt

'You know, many of you who know me know that I go on and on and on and on and then some talking about [the] TPP and why it's, you know, the greatest thing in the entire world.'

(Ambassador Demetrios Marantis, 8 August 2012) (1) As the Obama administration's first term came to a close, a considerable strategic dimension started to become clear. The focus on the Asia-Pacific region would start to take precedence over European, Middle Eastern and Latin American issues. Washington, it was announced, was going to 'pivot' towards the Asia-Pacific region in a new realignment of interests. This would entail the redeployment of naval forces to the Pacific, a 'rebalancing' that would place 60 per cent of US naval assets in the region. (2)

In all of this, there has been another dimension that has lacked serious attention. Analysis, certainly from official circles, has been conspicuously absent. The United States, along with a group of countries, is playing the cardinal role in creating what has come to be called the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Touted as a 'free trade' agreement, it is currently being negotiated by the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. With the military 'pivot' comes that of finance, and the Obama administration has made it clear that as 60 per cent of US export goods finds its way to the Asia-Pacific region, along with 75 per cent of its agricultural produce, it is the vital region of interest for the United States.

The shift of focus may well in time become one of the cornerstones of the Obama administration's second term, should the TPP combine with Washington's strategic 'pivot' to the Asia-Pacific region. Others are less than impressed. The TPP has been described as 'NAFTA on steroids'. (3) Billionaire and former US presidential candidate Ross Perot suggested that if such an agreement were to be implemented, a 'giant sucking sound' would be heard as millions of jobs left the country. (4)

What exactly lies at the heart of the TPP? The United States first entered into negotiations in March 2008. There have been up to fourteen rounds of negotiations, all highly secretive. The degree of secrecy, for one, is striking. Only large corporate figures, as opposed to public interest advocates, have been allowed to cast an eye over the provisions. This has not stopped the US State Department from telling media representatives that 'stakeholders' far and wide are being mined for their wisdom. The only official document we have to go on in this regard is a leaked US draft proposal from February 2011 detailing matters touching on copyright. (5) Other bits of the puzzle have only come about because of other leaks, totalling five, and press briefings that offer little by the way of substantive information.

The lack of official debate on the subject has not prevented a very active discussion from taking place among observers of internet regulation, notably on the chapter covering intellectual property. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, to take one, has not been impressed. Two problems are identified by the organisation--IP restrictions and a lack of transparency. In terms of the first, 'the IP chapter would have extensive negative ramifications for users' freedom of speech, right to privacy and due process, and [would] hinder peoples' abilities to innovate'. The second was characterised by a grand 'shut out' of 'multi-stakeholder participation'. (6)

Official line

New Zealand's minister for trade, Tim Groser, articulates the official TPP line. The government's premise is that the TPP will improve New Zealand's export performance through the removal of trade impediments. A familiar rhetorical tactic is used: quote trade percentages and then link them to the direct outcome of free trade.

   Nearly 50 per cent of New Zealand exports are now covered by free
   trade agreements. … 
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